The Saudi government has dashed hopes of Saudi human rights activists that mounting public anger over the Israeli offensive in Gaza would force it back down at least temporarily from its ban on public manifestations. The Current of Justice, Shura and Human Rights, which last November organized the kingdom's first public hunger strike in support of a dozen political reformists detained without charge, had petitioned the government to authorize sit-ins in solidarity with the Palestinians. The government, afraid that lifting the ban would lead to demonstrations demanding more rights in the kingdom, last week enforced the ban by arresting tens of people who had defied the ban in southern predominantly Shiite city of Qatif.
In a bid to demonstrate support of the Palestinians and to offer ordinary Saudis a sense demonstrating their solidarity, the government organized a nationwide fund-raising campaign for Gaza. The campaign collected more than 100 million Saudi riyals (Euros 20 million) in less than two days, with 30m riyals (Euros 6 million) coming from King Abdullah. Al Riyadh daily, which reflects government views, described the campaign as a "good protest".
Heightened public emotion albeit focused on Palestine rather than the kingdom, comes at a moment that Saudi Arabia is facing economic and political problems. The global economic crisis that sparked a steep market downturn is driving consolidation in the finance industry. Six Saudi financial services companies are pondering a merger to weather the economic crisis while several other companies are considering liquidation.
"These companies have very difficult options in front of them, either to proceed with further losing of the remaining portion of their capital or accept the current harsh reality by seeking alternatives," said financial analyst Mohammad Al Omran, according to Al Riyadh. The UAE's Gulf News cited Saudi economists at saying that layoffs in the finance sector were likely and that some institutions would need capitalization.
On the political front, Stratfor, an online geopolitical intelligence publisher reports that Saudi Defense Minister and Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz is terminally ill. The report comes less than 24 hours after the Crown Prince, who has been reportedly ill for some time, met in New York with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to the Saudi Gazette.
Stratfor said Sultan had arrived in Morocco after doctors in New York told him his radiation treatment was finished and there was nothing more they could do. Senior members of the Saudi royal family were reportedly are on their way to Morocco. Late last month, King Abdullah was concerned about attending the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Oman while Sultan was in New York for treatment because that would have meant that no appointed ruler would have been in the kingdom during his absence.
As Crown Prince, Sultan is next in line. King Abdullah last month appointed 35 sons and grandsons of Saudi Arabia's founder King Abdul Aziz to a commission that would help select future kings. http://xrdarabia.org/2007/12/10/saudis-name-succession-committee/ The decree finalized a process to institutionalize succession which until then was decided by the inner councils of the royal family in a shroud of secrecy. The death of Sultan would be the first time the family would have to replace a crown prince rather than a king. The nomination could pit various factions in the royal family against one another. This will likely be the first time the Saudi royal family will have to replace a crown prince. Sultan's death could leader to a shake-up in the kingdom's top leadership because he head the Sudairi clan, the most powerful clan within the al-Saud family, and serves as deputy prime minister and defense minister. Sultan's younger brother, Riyadh Gov. Prince Salman, is widely seen as the frontrunner to succeed him as crown prince should he pass away.